Parents grill BoE’s Todd on closing Inman Elementary School

Fayette County Board of Education member Bob Todd (center, standing) took the microphone in an Aug. 14 meeting at Inman Elementary School where he and board member Marion Key (seated, background right) heard from a cafeteria full of parents. Photo/Ben Nelms.

Fayette County Board of Education members Bob Todd and Marion Key took plenty of heat from parents at Inman Elementary School at an Aug. 14 town hall meeting.

The gathering came after the school board recently agreed to have Inman included on the list of potential school closures beginning next year.

Though both school board members gave opening statements, it was Todd that responded to all the questions posed by a room full of parents who said they objected to their school being considered for closure.

While Todd responded to many, but not all, of the questions posed, some in the audience contended that his motivation for recommending that Inman be placed on the list for possible closure was politically motivated.

No one at the meeting could have known that the topic at hand would be negated at the Aug. 20 meeting of the Fayette County Board of Education when the five options for various school closures would be condensed to only two options. Neither of those involved Inman.

Todd in his opening remarks said that while his recommendation to consider closing Inman was proposed as an option that accompanied the other options, his vote to close any school would have to be accompanied by data, “that shows it is financially viable to do so.” He said a thorough analysis of the data should precede any vote.

A number of questions from Inman parents, essentially forming the central question of the evening, centered on why Inman was put on the list for potential closure.

Todd in response said Inman was put on the list primarily to get the issue on the table and before the school board. He cited the school system’s mounting financial problems and the four options on the table prior to the school board adding the option to consider closing Inman at his request. He insisted throughout the meeting that the proposal on Inman was an option.

From the audience reaction Todd’s response appeared to satisfy few in the room, with some suggesting that his answer, or in the minds of some a lack of an answer, was politically motivated.

Several in the audience asked why the potential closure was brought up at the 11th hour. Todd responded saying the proposal had been brought up for discussion at a previous meeting but that no discussion had followed.

Though some in the audience were unaware, Todd at the April 16 school board meeting proposed what in August became option 5 under the current list of five options. Todd’s proposal included merging Fayetteville Intermediate and Hood Avenue Primary schools, leaving Rivers Elementary closed, closing a middle school and consider closing Inman Elementary.

On the topic of Inman, Todd in April proposed that the closure of Inman would return some students to the neighborhoods in Fayetteville where a substantial number of children reside.

Todd maintained that Inman was not needed and does not serve a population center, being located approximately three miles from Fayetteville’s south city limits. Todd also suggested using Hood/Fayette Intermediate, Spring Hill and Minter to absorb the Inman students. He said the closure would allow for some re-population of Brooks Elementary and would lower that school’s very high operating cost.

Another parent at the Aug. 14 meeting asked why some schools were added to the list as opposed to all schools being evaluated for possible closure.

“We wanted a cost analysis when we started talking about the schools. And we still don’t have it,” Todd said.

On a question of future enrollment and school capacities, Todd cited a University fo Georgia study from 2011 projecting that Fayette schools will lose more than 1,600 students by 2021. Asked if the study had been published, Todd said it had been published, both by the school system and in the media.

Another parent asked why other schools such as Spring Hill Elementary were not being considered for closure. Spring Hill is next to a dump, the parent said, adding his belief that the potential for considering the closure of Inman was political. Todd did not respond to the question.

A questioner toward the end of the meeting said that it appeared that, pertaining to some of Todd’s answers, that he was not prepared to give concrete responses and asked if some type of follow-up to questions would be provided to parents. Inman PTO representatives said questions would be posted on the organization’s website. Todd in response said he would answer those questions.

The meeting ended as it began, with many in the room expressing concern that their children’s school was being inappropriately considered for closure.

The sentiments expressed by parents at the meeting was similar in ways to what school board members heard nearly a year ago when a number of parents from Tyrone and Brooks attended a school board meeting, wanting to know if their schools would be considered for closure and insisting that any potential consideration in that regard be dismissed.

Possible school closures are only one facet of a much larger issue: finances. An Aug. 17 letter by Superintendent Jeff Bearden to the school system’s faculty and staff notes the financial circumstances currently faced by the school system.

Bearden in the letter noted the need to cut up to $20 million in expenses for the school year that begins next July. School closures are one of more than a dozen cost-cutting measures that will be reviewed in the coming months.